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British Industrial History

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Pacific Steam Navigation Co

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1887. Oroya.
June 1939.

of 31 James Street, Liverpool

1835 the Chilean Government granted William Wheelwright exclusive rights to steam navigation in its waters for a period of 10 years; it was expected that steamers could better handle the uncertain wind patterns along the Pacific Coast.

1838 Despite the additional support from some Peruvian merchants, Wheelwright found it difficult to get going. The British Government was supporting developments including promotion of the idea of a railway across Panama. Wheelwright was able to obtain finance in London and the company was formed in 1838.

1840 The company was incorporated by royal charter[1] which enabled the new company to raise money from the general public. The company had to develop a new class of ship, the coastal passenger liner, and sail these small vessels to the Pacific as well as transport coal, obtain crews and create maintenance facilities. Its area of operations was virtually uncharted.

1840 opened a service from Valparaiso to Callao (Peru) with two 682 ton paddle steamers

1845 Early adopter of iron hulls

By 1846 the service reached Panama. This service was connected overland to Royal Mail Steam Packet Co’s Southampton – Colon service.

By 1851 it had local mail contracts

1852 obtained a British Government mail contract to operate a fortnightly service from Valparaiso and Panama.

1854 the Panama Railway was opened which helped the company's business

1856 Pioneered the use of more fuel efficient compound engines.

1860 the fleet was 12 steamers.

1865 the charter was amended to extend its area of operations.

1867 the shareholders agreed to establish a new service from Liverpool to Valparaiso via the Straits of Magellan.

1873 Service to Peru was operated on a weekly basis. The company became the largest steamship company in the world with 57 vessels.

1874 the service was reduced to fortnightly, leaving the company with 11 ships laid-up in Liverpool.

1877 Anderson, Anderson and Co and F. Green and Co entered into a profit sharing agreement with Pacific Steam Navigation Co, with a purchase option, covering 4 of the passenger ships which had been built in 1871. They would use the ships on expanding their Australia service.

1878 Orient Steam Navigation Co was formed to buy the 4 ships.

1879 Chile went to war with Bolivia and Peru, which completely disrupted the company's operations. The company only survived because of its income from the Australian service.

After 1883 The South American trade recovered slowly after the war; the pattern of trade changed, leading the company to introduce its first cargo ships in 1893.

1905/6 Royal Mail Steam Packet Co bought the Pacific Steam Navigation Co's shareholding in Orient Line and its interests in the Australian trade.

1908 Modernisation of its fleet included larger, luxury passenger liners such as the Orcoma, the "electric ship".

1910 Acquired by Royal Mail Steam Packet Co part of Owen Philipps' group; continued trading under its own name.

Trade declined as competing services to South America developed, including the Argentine-Chile railway in 1910 and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

WWI Most of the ships were taken up for the war effort, leaving a vacuum that American shipowners exploited.

1922 Chile introduced regulations to protect its coastal trade for its national vessels

1928 Peru followed Chile's example, so the company's coastal services were abandonned.

1931 The company became independent again after the collapse of the Kylsant group

1938 Purchased by the restructured Royal Mail Lines.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  • Pacific Steam Navigation Co[1]